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Problems with aging eyesight

10 May 2006

Problems with aging eyesight

Having trouble reading or focusing on objects near to you is the first symptom of deteriorating eyesight, a condition known as presbyopia. It's a good reason to have a professional eye exam, suggests Visique Optometrist Gary Crowley.

"Presbyopia is the least of a person's worries," he says. "An eye exam can also highlight bigger, vision-threatening problems, such as glaucoma and cataracts, which become more common as people age."

Visique practices nationwide have this month launched an awareness campaign of the issues and risks for people's eyesight as they age. Mr Crowley says the key message is that once people reach their 40s, an eye assessment every two to three years should become part of their health routine.

"People tend to come to see us only when they notice a problem. But a routine eye check is important, because we can begin to establish a record of a patient's eye health and pick up issues like glaucoma early, before they are affecting sight."

Mr Crowley says there are many myths about the eyes, and in particular, that the wearing of glasses can weaken eyesight. This is untrue, but he explains there is good reason for the myth because presbyopia is a progressive condition.

It is not, however, a disease and it cannot be prevented. It is a symptom of aging, caused when the eye's lens loses flexibility, which makes it more difficult to focus. People tend to become aware of the problem in their 40s. It does not matter whether or not they wear glasses for presbyopia, their eyesight will continue to deteriorate until their mid 60s.

Some people choose not to wear glasses, Mr Crowley says. "I have had people ask me not to fully correct their vision. They say they like a bit of blur in their life. One patient, who's a bit of a character, came in complaining that since she got her new glasses, she could see cobwebs on the roof, so now she had to do a lot more housework.

"The point is, if you have presbyopia, wearing glasses won't make your eyes better or worse, they will simply enable you to see better."

Mr Crowley himself wears glasses for presbyopia. He says the benefit is he can now read comfortably again; the problem is sometimes not having his glasses available when he needs to focus on something, like a menu. There's always a solution, however, such as a progressive lens, which allow more regular wearing of glasses.

"A lens prescription for presbyopia will usually give clear and comfortable vision at close distances. But it can make distant objects blurry. Progressive lens are a way around this problem, and give flexibility to wear the same pair of glasses all the time, if that is what someone wants."


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